Have you seen the Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher ? Watching it was a revelation to me and shed so much light on my relationship with alcohol and anxiety. The Octopus is a fascinating and brilliant creature of survival. When she must go out into the world, the octopus can change colors, camouflaging herself to fit into any situation. Always one with an escape plan, when danger appears she is gone in an inky flash. Into a rocky crevasse, she hides, folding in on herself to protect her soft bits from a world that is trying to eat her alive. Alone she is safe.
I used alcohol to bury my emotions and ease the anxiety of social interactions. Now, in my 3rd month of sobriety, I have been timidly trying to unearth the feelings that I have been running from for so long. It was through this process that I discovered my spirit animal… The Octopus.
The octopus is symbolic of my own life because it was through cleverness and grit that I survived. As an emotionally damaged, 16-year-old mother of one, with a seventh-grade education, I was determined to make it. Still, I couldn’t survive and heal at the same time. So I built emotional walls and it was behind these walls that I folded in on myself. Like the octopus, I hid all of my soft bits from a cruel and unforgiving world. When work and responsibilities drove me from my solitude I used camouflage so that no one could see my pain.
This served me well for a long time…. and SURVIVE I did! Crawling out of poverty with my sweet child in tow. Going to school and working full time, I eventually found myself graduating summa cum laude with a degree in business. How clever I was!
There came a point after graduation when I was safe. I was no longer just surviving. In this moment the feelings that I had stuffed down for years came flooding back. Instead of using this time to grow, to find a new spirit animal, I found a friend to make it all go away….wine. Wow! I thought, what an elixir. Wine dulled my emotions and melted my anxiety away.
Wine became my best friend. I wasn’t afraid to go out with the help of my friend. Sometimes this put me in danger that I normally would not have allowed, but with my friend I did not seem to care…and anyways society says it is “normal” to go a little too far sometimes with drinking. After all, I work hard and I take care of my family. Why shouldn’t I go all out sometimes??
Then my friend started coming home with me. In my lair, I would hide away with my hands firmly wrapped around the bottle. Night after night I would poison my body and my mind with wine. I stopped venturing out. I stopped growing. I stopped caring. Then I started to feel sick, not just physically but mentally. On the cusp of a mental collapse, I realized my friend was actually the enemy and I had just opened the door and let her come right in. Finally, after numerous attempts and in a last-ditch effort to save myself, I gave up drinking for good just over 3 months ago.
With 3 months of sobriety, 3 months free of alcohol, my anxiety has diminished tremendously. Now, I am ready to venture out again. To explore my feelings and to grow. Like the octopus, I am careful in my exploration, testing each feeling first rather than just jumping. Still, I am ready for something new. I don’t want to hide away or be camouflaged anymore. I want to be bold and bright and beautifully present in my life.
So I thank the octopus for helping me, because like her I was just a soft clever creature that managed to survive against the odds, but it is time for me to move on. Perhaps my new spirit animal will be my namesake Bluebird, which means happiness. This seems like a good place to start.
Visualization is powerful in many ways. I spent some time by a beautiful little stream yesterday. I sat there and closed my eyes and pretended to throw bubbles of anxiety into the stream and watch them float away. It helped, although when I got back to the trailhead my stomach was in knots again, but thankfully not quite so tight. It is even better today after a deep and restful night of sleep. I have had to continually remind myself that these feelings are not forever. Do you battle with this? No matter what I am feeling (good or bad) it seems that it will be that way forever. I always say I have faith in the process of sobriety. I also need to have faith that eventually the anxiety and depression will pass, as it always has before, even if I don’t feel it at that moment.
I always loved spending time alone, even as a kid. When my drinking got bad I turned my precious alone time into the chance to get as drunk as possible without the shame of others seeing me. Really it wasn’t alone time at all. It was hiding. My sobriety, although difficult at first, has reached a point of harmony and balance that is such a gift.
If you’re “sober curious”… If you are drinking too much too often and want to stop or take a break…or if you have stopped drinking and are trying to stick to sober!
More Reading on Alcohol and Anxiety :
I listened to someone describe the following ground exercise to help when anxiety gets overwhelming. She called it 5,4,3,2,1.
5: What are 5 things that you SEE, around you, right now?
4: What are 4 things you HEAR, right now?
3: What are 3 things you are TOUCHING, right now?
2: What are 2 things that you SMELL, right now?
1: What is 1 thing that you TASTE, right now?
Don’t leave one group until your brain answers each question…. wait until you acknowledge each thing. It’s not a race, it’s a way to ground yourself. Remind yourself that you ARE okay, there’s no need to fight, flight, or freeze.
To everyone finding things
really difficult at the moment
who think no-one notices
who might be drinking
more that they would like
to cope with it all…
Hey I see you
Don’t worry though
It doesn’t show
You’re trying so hard
Why doesn’t anyone realise?
You’re juggling everything
And doing it so well
I can tell
But is that bottle of rose
Your reward for getting through your day
Going to help?
Will it take your cares away?
Or could it make things worse?
Could you maybe try and take a break from booze?
For a few days, weeks or whatever you choose?
Come here and talk to us in BOOM
It’s free, anonymous and
You’ve nothing to lose
There’s no commitment needed
Just people you could chat to
Who might just feel similar to you
You’re not alone
even if it seems that way
Why not click and join today?
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“I think I have a problem with drinking”